At my age I don’t seem to have as many lightening flash revelations as I did when I was younger.  But recently I had one such event, which is always exciting.  

I was studying parts of Matthew 5 which I’ve
probably read a hundred times or more.  Matt. 5: 17 reads  “Do not think
that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to
abolish them but to fulfill them.”  

In this passage I see that Jesus was saying that there is a law above
human law and that is God’s law; that the Pharisees and Israel had
become rigid in their interpretation of the law and that it had become a
way for the Pharisees to maintain control as interpreters of the law.
 But then I read further concerning murder, adultery, divorce, etc. and
then the light struck.   Matt. 5:21-24 says, “You have heard that it was
said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders
will be subject to judgment.  But I tell you that anyone who is angry
with his brother will be subject to judgment.   Again, anyone who says
to his brother, ‘Raca’, is answerable to the Sanhedrin.   But anyone who
says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.  Therefore, if
you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your
brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the
altar.  First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer
your gift.”

Not only is the implication here that there is a law beyond man’s
simplistic and punitive interpretation of the law but that God’s law
requires more. But the real revelation for me was that within God’s law
there are ways to reconcile one with another.  In a broader sense, the
law should build bridges of reconciliation rather than just being
punitive.  This idea was something I’d never thought about and has
implications in the way we make laws and carry those laws out.

A simple example of this is our traffic laws.  All of us who drive, have
at one time or another broken the driving laws.  For many people there
is the belief that these laws don’t apply to them and that they can pick
and choose which ones to follow.  When caught, the attitude is that
they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  But for most of
us, we see these laws as being important for the workings of society.
 The fine isn’t the important issue.  The driving ticket class is.

But on a more serious side of the issue, let’s look at our drug laws,
particularly the laws pertaining to crack cocaine and drug
paraphernalia. A person can receive up to five years in prison for just
possessing a crack pipe with residual amount of cocaine.  And what
happens during those five years?   Not much.  These persons mainly just
sit out their time and along the way may learn a new trade for crime and
pick up a new set of friends that will influence them when they get
out.  When they do get out their one ID is a card from the prison system
that labels them as an ex-offender.  They can’t get a job, can’t find a
place to live and are still branded, even though they’ve served their
time.  So, about 60% of these men and women end up back in prison.  The
law is punitive even when time is served.   But there is some hope.  The
state legislature has finally seen that drug treatment and learning to
cope in society is an important part of the process.  There are
privately funded programs both in and out of prison that try to help
ex-offenders to serve their time productively.  At Memorial Drive United
Methodist we have members who participate in a number of programs such
as Skills for Life, a program to teach public speaking and develop self
esteem,  Bridges to Life, a program to teach accountability and help
offenders to address their offenses, one on one mentoring with inmates,
and on the outside we support a program called Spirit Key, a Christian
based transitional housing and job placement program for ex-offenders
and The WorkFaith Connection, a Christian based program that helps men
and women learn to deal with their fears in job seeking and helps them
with resume writing and job interviewing.  But the tragedy of this is
that there aren’t enough of these programs and society in general is not
willing to give an ex-offender a second chance.  And when there’s a
shortfall in our state and local budgets, and when we are challenged in
our own giving and serving, these are some of the first programs that
are cut.

Instead of our motto being, “tough on crime” we need to also be “smart
on crime”.   This doesn’t mean that we’re soft on crime, but that we
acknowledge that there should be redemptive qualities to the law.